About Us

We are a married couple who retired and moved to Thailand in 2014. You are welcome to join us and our travel monkeys Sun Wukong and Malcolm Jr. on our adventures! We hope you enjoy the trip as much as we do.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Taking A Bath With Elephants

I remember a story I heard once. A banana farmer was waking up every morning to find many of his precious bananas were missing. One of his neighbors had an elephant, but it couldn't be (I will call her Ellie) Ellie because he had put a wooden bell around her neck so he knew where she was all the time. He continued to lose more and more bananas so with the help of his neighbor they watched and waited for the thief. Late into the night they saw Ellie quietly wander over to a muddy patch of ground. They walked near enough to see her gently packing mud around the bell she was wearing so it wouldn't make any noise. When she was satisfied she proceeded to quietly make her way to his banana trees.

In that instant my heart was full of love for elephants. When I found out there were many elephant camps in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai I started looking into what the tours were all about.
Asian Elephants have been used as heavy labor for hundreds of years in the timber industry but are no longer needed for logging so the owners have turned to using them in the tourist trade. Most are abused, underfed and neglected to the point of needing medical care.

I wish tourists would do some research before they choose a tour. You will find many tours that say they are “Rescue” and “Care” facilities. But when they give tourists rides on wooden racks tied to the elephants back, have circus type shows where the elephants do tricks and paint pictures it is beyond disgusting. In order to “train” the elephants to perform they start at a very early age separating momma and baby and in the isolation they abuse, torture, chain and starve the baby for many years to break their spirit so they will do whatever is asked of them. Needless to say I found it difficult locating a place that truly cares about the plight of the elephants.

Until our friend Chissy told us about a new tour that a friend of hers family started. It is called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. They only allow 12 to 15 people a day and I was hopeful it really was like they say in the brochures that the elephants are living, sleeping, eating and cared for by their Mahout and the Karen Villagers in the Jungle. Indeed it was.......So please follow our adventure below.

We were picked up by Tong the owner, driver and guide in a four door, 4 wheel drive pick up truck with bench seats in the covered bed. We left at 8:50 from Chiang Mai to the jungle mountains near Doi Inthanon National Park. We arrived at the beginning of our 10 km or 6.2 mile off road ride to the Karen Village at 10:10 am. It is approximately two hours each way.

Families of 5 neighboring Karen villages all work together helping each other with the once a year planting and harvesting of rice, fixing homes, weaving, making clothes and handcrafts.

Several times on the way up to the village we stopped and watched men clear trees and limbs from the road using only machetes, hatchets and hand saws. This is to make room for power poles and electrical lines to the villages. They have been using solar for 20 years and are very excited to see electricity come to the villages. They will continue to cook over wood because electric stoves are very expensive and a more practical reason is the smoke from the fires keeps the mosquitoes away!

The 5 village community is close knit and as our driver Tong came to a group of men he would stop and banter with them.

We arrived at the small village and got out of the truck to walk and wind our way through rice fields and down small paths into the jungle.

We crossed a bamboo bridge over a small river and made our way to the home of our hosts.

Looking out across the river and waterfall to a rice field on the hill we realized we were in a different world and a beautiful one it was.

We hiked up a steep hill through the jungle along a narrow path. After 5 to 10 minutes we arrived at two of the elephants sleeping area.

 It was just as steep down to the river.  We hiked up and down and up and down and up and down many times.  The people that live here are buff because of the physical lives they lead.  It is not a tour for persons with mobility issues.  We were very pleased with our strength and endurance!

The baby boy P'Tuk is 10 months old and will live with Momma Nong Mai until he is 5 years old. At that time he will sleep in a different area.

The Mahout / owner of these elephants sleeps in a hut next to the elephants and listens to them throughout the night. If they are stressed by hearing or smelling an animal or snake they are afraid of he is there to calm them down.

P'Tuk was as mischievous as a human toddler. He wanted to taste everything, explore and play until he became tired and had to lay down.

Our guide told us the elephants are afraid of snakes and dogs. And he drew in the dirt the shape of snake heads. It doesn't matter where in the world the snake lives, if it is pointy it is ok. But if it is shaped like a triangle it is poison. We found a red ant hill and some of us were bitten. We were in the jungle!

After plenty of time with the P'Tuk and Nong Mai we hiked deeper into the jungle to see the other elephant that is pregnant. Elephants carry for two years. Boonsri is 50 years old and still has one more year until she delivers. Our guide said it is for her safety that she sleeps away from the other elephants.

                                                           I think the baby is a girl!

Here is Part 1 of 3 videos

After feeding her and taking pictures we hiked back down to their home for lunch. It was a very delicious spread with vegetarian choices and a local chicken cooked to perfection and tiny yummy oranges!  We rested, talked and played with the children and bought some hand made souvenirs.

Vince and I were always referred to as Momma and Poppa when they would talk to us. It was very sweet! “Momma, Poppa, go to water!” Ok! We found the trail down to the river and small waterfall where our guide was soaping up and taking a bath.

The rocks near the waters edge were slimy and I slipped and fell.........laughing the entire time, I was ok and decided it was better to take off my shoes. The water was rushing over rocks and we found a nice deep hole to stand in. It was so refreshing!

                                         Being goofy as usual and then the water took me away!

After we played, splashed and took pictures we hiked back up to the house where we met the elephants coming down the hill from their sleeping places. They were happy to get their daily Mud Spa! We threw mud all over them and ourselves. Our guide told us that they put mud on the elephants and wash them in the river every day!

Next was a wash and they happily ran to the river.  We met them at a lower pool down stream from where we were bathing earlier . I scrubbed, splashed, washed and hugged Boonsri and we talked to each other eye to eye. It seems she was very attracted to me because she kept putting her face right next to mine and leaning her head against me as I was sitting down. The love I felt from her was beyond description.

Here is Part 2 of 3 videos

The elephants were clean and happy when they went back up the hill to their jungle and we hiked back up to the house. We dried off, chatted, laughed, took last minute pictures and said thank you and good bye. We were all a little introspective as we hiked back the way we came through the jungle and the rice fields to the truck.

                            We stopped at a neighbors to see what they were making for dinner.

                                                            These are poinsettia trees!

On the way out we again came upon men felling trees and clearing the road. One more tree.......the this one was HUGE and it looked like we were going to be there for quite a while. Tong stopped the truck and went to talk to the men. We all hopped out to take pictures and enjoy what was going on.

We heard excited yelling and went over to see what it was all about. It seems the tree they just fell had a flying squirrels living in it and they caught two of them. They were really happy because they only fly at night and are very hard to catch....besides that, they taste delicious.

We watched men use hatchets and machetes to remove limbs and cut notches. It was going to take a long time to get it out of the way. The scene was familiar as we watched three men working really hard while the rest were standing and watching. Vince and I laughed so hard because we realized it is exactly like that where we worked in the U.S.!

About 10 minutes later a man walked under the tree with a large two person hand saw and measured the length to the ground. He walked back to the truck and measured it. Sure enough! Tong was able to drive the truck under the tree with scant inches to spare!

Here is Part 3 of 3 of our videos

                          Our day was magical, heartwarming, humbling, and I didn't want to leave!

Quote from the book Euphoria: “Our perspective can have an enormous wingspan, if we give it the freedom to unfurl”. “The key is to disengage yourself from all your ideas about what is “Normal”.


  1. I am thrilled to have read your experience here! You are lucky to have had your Thai friends introduce you to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I am a big supporter of the Elephant Nature Park, but I love seeing that another business is operating similar practices and promoting the ethical treatment of elephants. The Hill Tribe family has a magical place - gorgeous grounds, super cute baby (elephant and Thai baby ;) , intriguing neighbors, other animals... what an experience! I am totally going to recommend this place to whoever asks. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. How kind of you both! I wish you could see for yourself just how amazing it is. I know you would have a blast! Feel free to pass along the blog post and videos to any of your clients. Thanks again, L&V

  2. Wonderful. Looks amazing and your pics were fun to see, too. Thanks for sharing your lovely day, xxoo

    1. I am glad you liked it Lani. It was fun to look through the hundreds of pictures we took and hard to narrow them down. (xxoo back at ya!)

  3. Hi Lin and Vince

    First of all, awesome post; looks very similar to our trip to a village but we did the elephants separately at Patera Elephant Farm.

    Anyway, my wife Diane and I were referred to your blog by Lani, who says you are an
    excellent source of retirement in Thailand. Our long story short: Diane and I are applying for an MM2H visa in Malaysia in April as soon as I turn age 50 and planning to move to Penang. We're retiring early and selling our house; since we live in Northern California our house should fetch almost 750K and we own it clear so we intend to use that money to live for awhile.

    Anyway, we love Thailand and it's always been "Plan B" (either Chaing Mai or Hua Hin) but we absolutely hate the stupid visa runs. MM2H allows 10 years unlimited entry but requires a large cash fixed deposit.

    Anyway, Malaysia recently enhanced its rules and are starting to do random income verification checks in a way that US banks are not really allowed to do so we've been asking everyone about Thailand's visas just in case we get rejected. Lani thinks we're making a lot of noise about nothing but I just feel the visa runs are ridiculous when so many people want to emigrate there.

    I'm going to give your blog a long read and would really appreciate it if you check ours out at www.experimentalexpats.com. You can read some of our stories so far; I just started the blog 6 weeks ago

    We're gathering a small list of contacts ahead of the move so we might be able to meet if we have questions or issues and we'd love to add you to our list.

    Hope to hear from you soon
    Rob and Diane